Mario walking past stained-glass windows in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.
Image Source: Nintendo

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door Is the Deft Return of a Classic (Hands-On Preview)

Paper Mario returns.

Amid all the talk over the years about Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, it’s a game I’d never tried out. It’s one of the true hidden gems of the GameCube era: a game where you had to be there, and could only hope to sample its greatness by playing subsequent Paper Mario games up to The Origami King on Switch. After all, it isn’t until now that the game is available on anything other than the GameCube.

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Fortunately, Nintendo answered many fans’ prayers by announcing a remake of The Thousand-Year Door for 2024. Regardless of why this is coming out now, of all times—filling in a quiet 2024 release schedule or pure fan service—I’ve had the chance to actually play this long-fabled classic. And let me say this: I now get it.

Mario and a koopa in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.
Image Source: Nintendo

Prior to my time with The Thousand-Year Door (amounting to around four hours at the time of this preview), I’d actually put a lot of time into the Paper Mario N64 re-release on Nintendo Switch Online. Call me foolish, but I didn’t even know it was a turn-based RPG at the time, so growing accustomed to that style of gameplay as opposed to a classic Mario platformer was a learning curve.

In many ways, that experience with the first Paper Mario game set me up perfectly for The Thousand-Year Door. This time around, I knew exactly what I was getting into, meaning I could embrace this ‘new’ Paper Mario adventure with open arms.

The advantage of remastering a Paper Mario game is that regardless of how much time has passed, it’ll never, ever look outdated. While The Thousand-Year Door has the DNA of a GameCube game that’s now 20 years old, it looks like a brand-new Switch release. The visual design is timeless in the truest sense, with character models that look crystal-clear with their sharp borders and colorful worlds that pop on the Switch OLED.

Gameplay-wise, it’s pretty much the same thing for Paper Mario veterans. The same turn-based combat, where each character has a different timed input to land extra damage, and the same special items and power moves to gain the upper hand in a fight. This remake isn’t aiming to reinvent the wheel and completely overhaul the formula like the recent Mario vs. Donkey Kong game – instead, it’s polishing the edges that two decades of age have highlighted in the original.

Mario throwing a shell in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door.
Image Source: Nintendo

I was grateful for this, because Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door feels like the next logical iteration of what I sampled from the N64 original. Combat is snappier but just as engaging, enemies are generally a bit tougher, and the story had me interested a lot earlier on. For somebody without previous experience with the game, this was the absolute best way to play it, visually gleaming and seamlessly adapting to the Switch control scheme.

That said, there’s every chance fans who have never stopped playing Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door in the twenty years since it released may not be instantly sold on this remake. Fundamentally it’s the same game, with very little difference beyond the refined graphics and some more modernized menus.

Still, a month or so away from its release, that stringent loyalty to the original could work either for or against The Thousand-Year Door. On one hand, it means old-school fans looking to recapture their nostalgia will get exactly what they’re after, and newcomers like myself can experience the game as it has always been. That said, the lack of gameplay refinements or expanded, modernized mechanics may alienate those hoping for a remake that addresses more than just the visuals. Especially when the 2004 original still looks so good, it may need to do more than that to win over skeptics.


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Author
Luke Hinton
Luke Hinton is a video games journalist currently working as Senior Guides Writer and Associate Editor at Twinfinite. He has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Journalism, Media, and Culture, and previously specialised in entertainment writing.